Looking Back

“Looking Back: Improve upon (or try an alternate version of) a previous challenge, or a recipe you are already comfortable with.”

I. Love. Chocolate.

Like seriously, I think chocolate is the Food of the Gods. Imagine my dismay when a historical recipe I was making for one of the last round’s challenges went horribly wrong. So horribly wrong that I didn’t take more than one bite and threw the entire batch away. The challenge was Sweets for the Sweet and I decided to make a chocolate caramel candy recipe. I took the time to do it just as written. The ingredients included Baker’s chocolate, brown sugar, butter, and milk. The resulting candy tasted like bitter molasses. It was awful.

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When I saw this challenge, I decided I would try to make historical candy again, but with a different recipe. I chose my recipe from La Cuisine Creole: A Collection of Culinary Recipes, From Leading Chefs and Noted Creole Housewives, Who Have Made New Orleans Famous for its Cuisine, a cookbook I found on online at Michigan State University’s Feeding America website. This website is an invaluable source for historical cookbooks that have been scanned in and are available free of charge. You can find the digital copy here: Feeding America  La Cuisine Creole was anonymously printed in 1885, but its authorship is generally accepted to be attributed to Lafcadio Hearn. While the majority of the receipts are for Creole cookery, I did find a recipe for chocolate caramels that sounded similar to the recipe I had used with just a little difference in sugar.

Along with chocolate, I can use this entry to extol the virtues of something else I love – Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia. My mom and dad brought my brother and I to Williamsburg when I was a child, then again in my early teens. As an adult, I have been there with my own family another six times. One of my favorite activities there is to sit in the middle of the Governor’s Palace Green and soak in the atmosphere. The colonial area is closed to motor traffic during the day, so all that can be heard is the slow clopping of horses’ hooves as they pull various types of carriages and wagons full of tourists from stop to stop. The smell in the air is that of boxwood in the spring and summer, a pungent spicy greenery that forms many of the garden hedges. My dream job is to be a historical cooking interpreter at the Governor’s Palace kitchen. It is located in a separate building on the edge of the courtyard and contains two rooms. One is a still room where all manners of confections and culinary delights can be found as well as various copper kettles, forms and implements for cooking. The other room is the kitchen proper with a large colonial style fireplace and adjacent oven. Foods are prepared using vegetables from the garden behind the building as well as fruit, milk, and other ingredients produced right there in the colonial area with historically accurate recipes and skills. The food is not available for tourists to eat, as it would not be able to pass quality tests, but for them to see the types of meals that were made for the British governor and his family to eat.

The last time we went to Colonial Williamsburg, the kitchen staff were making chocolate. They started with roasting the nut to rolling the chopped nuts, allowing the emollients within the nut to bring it to a semi-liquid form. The chocolate was then scraped off the chocolate stone, a special rolling stone that was heated to also help with the liquefying of the chocolate, and dropped into discs on parchment paper.  After they hardened, the discs would be stored for use as flavoring in hot water, as drinking chocolate was the only way it was consumed. The smell of chocolate in the kitchen that day was almost overwhelming. I spent a couple of hours there observing how the chocolate was made and trying to soak in as much information as possible.

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While I do not have a chocolate stone, I was able to purchase American Heritage Chocolate. If you have not heard about this chocolate, you can learn more here: American Heritage Chocolate  Basically, it was developed by Mars Wrigley, the company that brought us M&Ms.  Forrest E. Mars, Jr. worked with a team of historians with research by more than 115 global experts to create American Heritage Chocolate.

The Recipe:

Chocolate Caramels

Since my last try with chocolate caramels went so horribly wrong, I approached this time with extreme trepidation.  The recipe looked easy enough, but it did last time too!

2 C milk

4 oz grated chocolate

1 ½ C white sugar

Butter

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I prepared my block of chocolate by hand grating it. Once it was grated, I coated my cooking pan with butter, based from a different recipe I had read as well as preparing the dish I would pour it in when it was time.

I mixed my ingredients together and placed the mixture on a medium heat. I brought it to a rolling boil, all the while watching it carefully that it did not burn. I’m not a candy expert, so I decided to use my thermometer in order to be accurate with the temperature. “Stiff enough to pull” appeared to be soft ball stage via my research, which was 235 degrees Fahrenheit. As the mixture boiled and began to reduce, it became a rich, dark brown. The steam smelled amazing. As I watched my thermometer, I could only get it to 230 degrees, where it stayed for 10 minutes. It just would not go higher. I inched the stove knob slightly higher and immediately smelled it starting to burn. I decided to remove it from the heat, hot enough or not.

I poured it into my pan and waited patiently for it to cool.

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Since it did not get hard enough to cut or pull into pieces, I poured the thick, heavy sauce into a container. It tasted just as amazing as it smelled. There was no way I’m letting this go to waste! Now I just slip into the refrigerator and sneak a spoonful of it!

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The Date/Year and Region: 1885, New Orleans, Louisiana

Time to Complete: The whole process was 45 minutes, including the grating of the chocolate block.

Total Cost: I had all the ingredients, so $0 for me.

How Successful Was It?: While I couldn’t get the firmness needed, the resulting sauce is amazing.

How Accurate Is It?: I used an electric oven and candy thermometer.

Next up – Soup!

I’ll be cooking for you soon!

Amber

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What Happened?

Well, life. Life happened. New demanding job, wedding of my son, beginning of the long goodbye with my father, another new job….

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My son and his beautiful bride
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Simply beautiful…
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My parents on their 50th wedding anniversary. My father had Parkinson’s Disease and dementia. He was an amazing man.

Just as I was beginning to restart my cooking challenges, they were updated with new challenges for this year. I will return to the previous Round 2 challenges eventually, mostly because I have all the recipes planned out! For now, however, I will be cooking the challenges for Round 3, 2019.

Next up – New Years! (And yes, I did my cooking within the fortnight, just need to find time to get them posted!)

I’ll be cooking for you soon!

Meat and Potatoes

“Meat and Potatoes – They’re a staple for the tables in the most rustic cottages as well as the fanciest banquet tables – and it’s also an idiom meaning a staple or the most basic parts of something. Make a historic “meat-and-potatoes” recipe – however you interpret it.”

Discovering the challenge Historical Food Fortnightly was an exciting moment for me. It allowed me to do three of my favorite things – read history, research and cook! I excitedly looked at all the challenges and pored through my hoard collection of vintage cookbooks. I have been blessed, just like my Grandma Myrtle, in that I can read a cookbook like a novel – reading the ingredients and how to put the dish together, imagining the combination of flavors and textures, smelling the outcome with the olfactory portion of my memory. As I looked, and read, and imagined the recipes I could use for each of the challenges, I decided I would use the cookbooks I personally own for as many of the challenges as possible.

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The first cookbook I decided to use was “The Every-Day Cook-book and Encyclopedia of Practical Recipes” by Miss E. Neil, published in 1892. I purchased this gem at an auction that was JUST COOKBOOKS!!!! I thought I was in heaven that day. I was competing against ladies that looked like my grandma for all these different cookbooks and they were cut-throat! Don’t let that white hair fool you. Those ladies were just as serious about their purchase of cookbooks as a heart attack. And I know the auctioneers were surprised at the intensity of the bidding. At the end of the day, I was able to come away with Miss Neil’s guide. As I looked over my collection, I came to the conclusion that a basic cookbook would be the perfect choice for a basic meat and potatoes dish.

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A GOOD DISH.

I decided after reading through the directions that I would need to precook my meat, which I chose as a three pound chuck roast, due to the fact the baking would need to be short, just long enough to warm the dish. Because I was making this for Sunday dinner, I decided to use my crock pot for the cooking of the meat. I only added a little salt, pepper and water with the roast in the crock.

While my potatoes were boiling, I set in to mincing the meat. Basically, I just sliced it across the grain in half inch slices, and then separated the meat fibers so it was loose. I covered the bottom of the pan with the meat and added the pinches of seasonings according to the directions. My very sharp chef’s knife, which I refer to as Jason, made quick work of the task.

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I used two and a half pounds of potatoes along with a half pint of cream and four tablespoons of butter and a couple shakes of my salt shaker. They mashed beautifully.

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I covered the meat with the mash, and then whisked an egg and about a quarter of a cup of cream to pour over the top.

At this point, I covered it with foil and transported it to my parents’ house. They knew I was bringing Sunday dinner, and they knew I was using them as the guinea pigs to my first HFF challenge. I asked my mom to preheat the oven to 350 F, and put the pan in for about 15 minutes. After checking the top to see if it had browned yet, I decided that I needed a hotter oven so I upped the temperature to 425 F, resulting in a nice toasted top after 10 minutes.

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My family eagerly dug in for dinner. Everyone liked it. My mom said she would give it an A.

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What they liked – the enhancement the addition of cloves gave to the beef. I have never added cloves to meat. I have always seen it as a dessert-type of spice. However, after this dish, I think I will experiment a little more in using it for savory dishes.

What they didn’t like – it seemed kind of dry. My husband added extra butter to the top. I had planned on using my drippings for a gravy to accompany the dish, but had forgotten to make it during my preparation time. I definitely think it needed it, and it would be an easy addition to make.

So here it is…

The Challenge: A meat and potatoes dish.

The Recipe: Was found in The Every-Day Cook-book and Encyclopedia of Practical Recipes by Miss E. Neil.

The Date/Year and Region: The book was published in 1892 by Regan Printing House in Chicago, IL, so I believe this recipe would be considered Upper Midwest.

How Did I Make It: See above.

Time to Complete: It took approximately 90 minutes to make this dish. That includes my oven temperature adjustment and extra time, but does not take into account the overnight cooking of the roast in the crock pot.

Total Cost: $15.00  The roast was the most expensive ingredient at $13.00.

How Successful Was It? It tasted good, and looked great. If I were to make it again, I would increase the amount of cloves I used. I had followed the directions and used a pinch, but I would have liked it just a little more spicy. I also would have made gravy to serve with it.

How Accurate Is it: I used a crock pot for the roast, an electric stove for the potatoes and a gas stove for the completion. But those potatoes were mashed by hand – no mixer for this girl!

Next up – Culinary Vices! I’ll be cooking for you soon!

Amber